Spotting the Difference: Melanoma, Age Spots and Sun Spots

May 7th 2016

Skin melanomas respond well to early treatment, so it's vital to be aware of the signs of melanoma and keep an eye on your sun spots. If you are worried about any of the marks on your skin, seek help from a qualified medical professional as soon as possible.

Cherry Hemangiomas

These are the form of sun spot least likely to be associated with or mistaken for melanoma. They take the form of small red dots, smaller than a pencil eraser. They are caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels in the skin, and they are very common on all parts of the body that have been exposed to sunlight repeatedly.

Lentigines

These are large flat areas that look similar to freckles in color and shape, but they tend to be much larger. They range widely in size; many are between the size of a pencil eraser and the size of a dime, though some may well be bigger or smaller. These are the classic age spots or liver spots, and they are usually located on the most sun-exposed portions of skin. These are the marks that are most likely to resemble melanomas.

Seborrheic Keratoses

These marks tend to be less flat, and can often present as scaly patches. Their color varies between pale and dark browns to almost black. Some people compare their appearance to that of warts, though they are not related in any way. They are, however, common in people who also have skin tags, and they appear to be caused by genetic tendencies as well as sun exposure. Marks of this type are also sometimes mistaken for melanomas.

Melanoma ABCDEs

If you have a mark that might be a lentigine or a seborrheic keratosis, have a doctor check it out in case it is a melanoma. Melanomas arise on both normal skin and under pre-existing moles, and the place they grow affects their appearance. This is one of the reasons they can resemble both types of sun spot.

Once mnemonic for checking out a suspicious spot is ABCDE: asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolution. Melanomas tend to be asymmetrical or irregular, and that goes for their edges as well as their general appearance. In color, they are more likely to be very dark or to have more than one color showing, while sun spots tend to be a consistent shade. While it's not a sure sign, spots that are larger than a pencil eraser are more likely to be cancerous than small ones.

Be aware of and evolution or changes in your spots. Itching, bleeding and pain are all markers that a seemingly innocuous sun spot might be something more worrisome.

Conclusion

Age spots, liver spots and sun spots are the same problem under different names; the latter name is the most accurate, as they are caused by sun exposure. There are several different types, but all of them are benign, if annoying and unsightly. However, they can resemble melanomas, and this can be concerning. If you misdiagnose a melanoma as a sun spot, you may not seek treatment early enough to prevent the spread of cancer. It's therefore important to be aware of the visual and tactile markers for each type of growth.

Sources

EverydayHealth.com "Melanoma or age spots? How to tell the difference" http://www.everydayhealth.com/skin-cancer/melanoma-or-age-spots-how-to-tell-the-difference.aspx
LiveStrong.com "Melanoma vs. age spots" http://www.livestrong.com/article/112065-melanoma-vs.-age-spots/
MayoClinic.org "Age spots (liver spots) symptoms" http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/age-spots/basics/symptoms/con-20030473

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